Wednesday, 24 September 2014

(268) September 25: Isaiah 4-6 & Galatians 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider how God expresses his judgement.

To ponder:
The “day” is “that day” of God’s judgement against Jerusalem and Judah (4v1, 3v18). Then, because of the destruction on the nation, men will be so scarce that women will be pleading with them to marry them, even offering to provide their own food and clothing, to make this a more attractive option (4v1). But we have learnt God’s goal is not simply the judgement, but the refining of his people that results from it. So on “that day” a “branch of the LORD” will be glorious. This refers to the Messianic king coming from David’s line (see 11v1). He will be seen in all his wonder, the land (then a new creation) will flourish as testimony to God’s blessing on those who survived the judgement (through faith in Christ). And those comprising the new Jerusalem (ie. the church) will be called “holy” and so set-apart for the service of God (4v2-3). At this time, the immorality of the women and the violence of others in Jerusalem will be cleansed by “a spirit” of judgement and fire, which seems to refer to God’s burning anger, as taught by John the Baptist (4v4, Matt 3v11-12). Then, we read God’s glory (as during the Exodus) will cover Mount Zion (ie. the people of God) as a shelter from metaphorical heat and storms (4v5-6, see Rev 7v15-17, 21v22-23). It may seem strange to jump from a prediction of God’s judgement in the exile to what will actually follow the final judgement, but there is a link: The righteous who died when Babylon attacked, would pass into the final state with Christ. And so God’s judgement on the nation would result in such people being made perfect. Death for the believer is the means of their life.
            5v1-7 is a famous song describing God’s people as his vineyard (see 5v7), and so explaining Jesus’ use of the vineyard in his parables. God loved it, cleared its ground of stones (the Canaanites) and planted it in the land, ensuring its protection (the watchtower) and expecting fruitfulness (the winepress). But it yielded only bad fruit (ie. a lack of justice and righteousness, 5v7). So God asks Judah and Jerusalem to judge between him and the people as to whether he could have done more. Of course he couldn’t, and so his judgement is right. He promises to remove the vineyard’s hedge and wall (ie. protection) causing it to be trampled (by conquerors), hindered by thorns (probably, co-resident nations, Jos 23v13), and without his blessing (no rain). The song still moves the Christian and church to be concerned with bearing good fruit.
            Numerous woes follow, outlining the bad fruit warranting this fate (5v8-25): seeking land and property without concern for those God had allocated it to; drunkenness and feasting without concern for celebrating what God had done; people dragging sin and deceit wherever they go, whilst hypocritically desiring to benefit from God’s plans, unaware that it will mean destruction for them; calling what is evil good and vice-versa; being wise in their own eyes rather than humbly accepting God’s ways; taking bribes and denying justice. God declares the very thing they embrace in their sin is the thing they will lack in judgement (5v9-10, 13-14). So the noble and arrogant will be humbled, yet God exalted as his excellence is displayed in his justice and holy righteousness. In short, the people will be burnt up by his anger for spurning his law. How this will happen is seen as he calls the nations with a banner and whistle, and they come quickly and without tiredness or hindrance to do battle and seize their prey (5v26-30). The sins of the people resonate with those within our culture and even church. We must be clear: They will also be judged when God sees fit.
            A new section begins with a description of God’s particular call of Isaiah. As this took place when Uzziah died, but Isaiah received visions during his reign, it seems by this time he had already been prophesying (6v1, 1v1). The vision in the uncertainty of succession within the monarchy shows God as the true king, reigning from behind the scenes. His immensity from his high throne way above the temple displays his supremacy and greatness over all else, and the temple as the earthly place of God’s heavenly rule. Moreover, the fear and reverence that his utter purity warrants is evident in that even seraph’s (fiery beings) could not look on him or show their feet. Their song stresses his holiness (here, the supremacy of his kingly majesty and purity) and universal glory, evident no doubt in the beauty of creation, but stressing that he is king not just of Israel but the whole world. There’s a sense in which the seraph’s words announce God, who then enters his temple – as the doorways shake, and smoke denotes God’s presence, as with the pillar of cloud (6v1-4). Isaiah’s response is the only fitting one: terror (6v5). He and the people are unclean and so liable to God’s holy anger if he comes close in this way. And how much more so, when Isaiah has seen what even the seraph’s won’t look on. The stress of unclean lips is probably because our speech reflects our heart (Lk 6v45). And if Isaiah was condemned on this basis, how much more are we. But there is hope: The coal from the temple’s altar illustrates God’s readiness to forgive sin on the basis of sacrifice (ie. in Christ).
We are then challenged as to how readily we give ourselves to service in appreciation of God’s mercy to us (as Rom 12v1-2): God asks who he can send to preach to his people, and Isaiah eagerly volunteers (6v6-8). God’s response is however surprising. He wants Isaiah to declare that God’s intent is that the people don’t understand their need to turn from their sin and be healed. Instead, he is going to use Isaiah’s preaching to harden them in their refusal to listen until the exile takes place, the land is destroyed and only a holy “seed” or remnant of people remain in the land, from which a people will again grow (6v9-13). The point is that after the people have ignored God’s word and warnings for so long, it is now too late. Justice must be done. And so, God confirms them in their rebelliousness so that they don’t repent and therefore receive the punishment they deserve. Jesus taught this explained why so many in his day just couldn’t see or accept who he was (Mk 4v11-12, Jn 12v37-41). Moreover, Paul notes that God acts in this way toward all who “refuse to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess 2v10-12). It’s seems this is a warning that those who stubbornly ignore the gospel may find God pre-empts his judgement by so hardening them that they will never repent.

Praying it home:       
Praise God for all he is going to establish through Christ. Pray that having received such clarity about Christ, you would never turn from it.

Thinking further:
None today.

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